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If you and your dog have been training in dog sports, one way that you can help prepare to enter a true competition is to enter a match first. An AKC Match Shows or “fun match” is an opportunity for dogs and handlers to enter a show-like environment but without the pressure of a show or getting ribbons.

Matches are a great way to test your dog’s training and help you identify areas where you and your dog might need more practice before you actually show or compete. Plus, it allows owners to learn more about how dog shows are structured and work through their own anxiety about competing.

What Is A Match Show

Match Shows run like a traditional dog show but no official titles are earned, giving you and your dog the opportunity to get experience without entering an actual dog show. There are officially sanctioned Conformation, Obedience, Rally, and Agility Matches, and many local training clubs organize unofficial fun matches in a variety of sports like Barn Hunt. It’s more of a trial-like situation, but where handlers can and are encouraged to train in the ring.

Pumi at Conformation show
David Woo

Matches also give you the opportunity to get some of your pre-show nerves out in a safe environment. You can introduce a new dog to a show environment where you can train, reward, and support your dog in the ring in a way you can’t in a regular show. Dogs are situational learners, so while your dog might know a skill well at home or where you take classes once a week, many people get surprised when they enter their dog in a show for the first time and they aren’t able to perform to the same level.

There are different kinds of matches that you and your dogs can enter. Both officially AKC-sanctioned matches and fun matches from local clubs or training groups can be great opportunities to practice with your dog in a new and distracting environment around other dogs and people.

In addition to matches, your local clubs may choose to offer run-throughs or ring time as part of club events or an official match. Here, a handler can purchase a small, allotted time to go into a ring with their dog to practice specific exercises, obstacles, or skills. This is a great opportunity to work on an isolated issue in a trial-like environment.

Benefits of Entering Matches

Unlike a show or competition, at a match, you’re able to have treats and/or toys in the ring with you to reward your dog—just be sure to check the specific rules for each match you’re entering. You’ll also be able to repeat an exercise or stop and restart—something that wouldn’t fly at a regular show. Even if you’ve started showing, matches are a great place to work through challenges that may come up in the ring but not at home or at class.

Entering matches is generally less expensive than showing, so it’s also an economical way to help your dog gain confidence and experience.

Australian Shepherd leaping over a jump in an agility course outdoors.
cynoclub/Getty Images Plus

How To Find and Enter Matches

The best way to learn about official and unofficial matches is to get involved with your local dog training community, kennel clubs, and breed clubs. These are the groups that will organize matches in different dog sports and will have information for training and match opportunities in your local area. In addition, AKC has an online interactive search tool that can help you search for official matches in your local area. If fun matches aren’t happening in your local area, you might even consider volunteering with a local group or club to help organize some.

When you learn about an upcoming match, you want to enter the club’s premium list or event notice that will tell you where the match is and how to enter with your dog. Some matches you’ll sign up for in advance while others are the day of. If you have questions or concerns about how to enter a match, reach out to the organizing club for support. Matches are designed to be accessible to newcomers, and volunteers with the hosting club will be happy to help guide you.

Building a Community at Matches

Matches are a great way to find connections and meet people involved in your local dog community. There will be plenty of club members and volunteers there to answer questions and introduce you to other competitors. It could be a great opportunity to find a mentor, as well.

If you are bringing a new dog or are entering your first dog, a match can be a great way to assess your dog’s training and get feedback on what to work on before entering a true show. Matches can also help handlers to work through their nerves, gain insight into the inner workings of a show, and ultimately give you the confidence to show.

Related article: Managing Frustration While Training Your Dog
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